Tuesday Reads, Part I: “Rape is as American as Apple Pie”

Lizzy Seeberg

Lizzy Seeberg

Good Morning!!

I decided to do the morning reads in two parts today. Part I is another tale of America’s rape culture. Part II will provide other news links. That way if you can’t face reading Part I, you can return for Part II in a little bit. Here goes….

I was very glad to see that Notre Dame was crushed, 42-14, in the BCS championship game last night. Thank goodness keeping two accused rapists on their team didn’t help Notre Dame in the end. Dave Zirin at the Nation compares the reactions of sports writers to the scandals at Penn State vs. Notre Dame:

Two storied college football programs. Two rape scandals. Only one national outcry. How do we begin to explain the exponentially different levels of attention paid to crimes of violence and power at Penn State and Notre Dame?

At Penn State, revered assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was raping young boys while being shielded by a conspiracy of silence of those in power at the football powerhouse. At Notre Dame, it’s not young boys being raped by an assistant coach. It’s women being threatened, assaulted, and raped by players on the school’s unbeaten football team. Yet sports media that are overwhelmingly male and ineffably giddy about Fighting Irish football’s return to prominence have enacted their own conspiracy of silence….

The main reason this is taking place is because their accusers are not pressing charges. One cannot, because she is dead. Nineteen-year-old Lizzy Seeberg, a student at neighboring St. Mary’s College, took her own life after her claims of being assaulted in a dorm room were met with threats and indifference. The other accuser, despite description of a brutal rape, won’t file charges—“absolutely 100%”—because of what Seeberg experienced.

I’ll provide a few more links about Lizzy’s story in a minute, but Zirin says straight out what I have been thinking for a long time: Violence against women has become “normalized” in American culture.

This is not just a Notre Dame issue. At too many universities, too many football players are schooled to see women as the spoils of being a campus god. But it’s also an issue beyond the commodification of women on a big football campus. It’s the fruit of a culture where politicians can write laws that aim to define the difference between “rape” and “forcible rape” and candidates for the Senate can speak about pregnancy from rape being either a “gift from God” or biologically impossible in the case of “legitimate rape.” It’s a culture where comedians like Daniel Tosh or Tucker Max can joke about violently raping, as Max puts it, a “gender hardwired for whoredom.” The themes of power, rape and lack of accountability are just as clear in the case of the Steubenville, Ohio, football players not only boasting that they “so raped” an unconscious girl but feeling confident enough to videotape their boasts.

After I read this article, I looked for more background on the Notre Dame situation. I ended up so depressed and nauseated that I couldn’t write this post last night. Sorry–I’ve been doing that a lot lately, but sometimes after I read the latest bad news, I need to sleep on it before I can write about it.

Melinda Henneberger, a Notre Dame alumnus and Washington Post columnist, has been writing about the cover-up at Notre Dame for a couple of years now, and she probably deserves credit for keeping the story alive, though low on the radar. Here’s a piece she wrote in December: Why I won’t be cheering for old Notre Dame.

Two years ago, Lizzy Seeberg, a 19-year-old freshman at Saint Mary’s College, across the street from Notre Dame, committed suicide after accusing an ND football player of sexually assaulting her. The friend Lizzy told immediately afterward said she was crying so hard she was having trouble breathing.

Yet after Lizzy went to the police, a friend of the player’s sent her a series of texts that frightened her as much as anything that had happened in the player’s dorm room. “Don’t do anything you would regret,” one of them said. “Messing with Notre Dame football is a bad idea.”

At the time of her death, 10 days after reporting the attack to campus police, who have jurisdiction for even the most serious crimes on school property, investigators still had not interviewed the accused. It took them five more days after she died to get around to that, though they investigated Lizzy herself quite thoroughly, even debriefing a former roommate at another school with whom she’d clashed.

Six months later — after the story had become national news — Notre Dame did convene a closed-door disciplinary hearing. The player testified that until he actually met with police, he hadn’t even known why they wanted to speak to him — though his buddy who’d warned Lizzy not to mess with Notre Dame football had spoken to investigators 13 days earlier. He was found “not responsible,” and never sat out a game.

Even after Lizzy killed herself, Notre Dame officials continued to investigate her and try to tarnish her character. They painted her as possibly mentally ill and claimed she had been the aggressor in the assault. Notre Dame’s president, Holy Cross Fr. John Jenkins, repeatedly refused to meet with Lizzy’s family and did not even extend condolences to them after her death. It is obvious that there is a culture at Notre Dame (and at other colleges and universities) that protects athletes and covers up their violent acts against female students. Naturally, the next girl–who was violently raped–by a member of the football team decided it wasn’t worthwhile to complain about it.

Read the rest of this entry »

Saturday Reads: World-Wide Rape Culture and Other News

Newspaper, coffee and bagel at table

Good Morning!!

For the past two days I’ve been reading about the gang rape that took place in Steubenville, Ohio last August. This horrendous story got almost no national publicity until The New York Times published a long investigative piece on it on December 16. I’m sure you’ve probably heard about it by now too.

Sadly, it’s a familiar story. High school athletes sexually assault young girl, town closes ranks to protect boys and blame the victim. We’ve seen similar events again and again over the past few years and probably the only difference in these recent attacks on women from those in previous times–going by centuries–is that they get more publicity now and some people are outraged about them. But it doesn’t stop.

There was the Richmond High gang rape in California, the Pitt Meadows gang rape in British Columbia, the gang rape of an 11-year-old girl in Texas, and most recently the death of a woman who was viciously gang raped in India.

Go here to watch a very good video of Amanda Marcotte and a Canadian blogger discussing our world-wide rape culture, focusing on the cases in India, Steubenville, and Pitt Meadows.

Another difference in these incidents from those in earlier times is that participants often take photos and videos of these horrendous events and either send them to each other or post them on-line. In the Steubenville case, participants even tweeted about what was happening as they watched! This creates more nightmarish problems for victims and for law enforcement, but may also lead to perpetrators getting caught even when there is a local cover-up. In Steubenville, an “Anonymous” group has been involved–hacking into computers to retrieve data that has been erased.

Shockingly, this week, as the Steubenville story broke nationally, we witnessed the shameful spectacle of House Republicans finally refusing–after months of stalling–refusing to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.

To be honest, I wasn’t even sure if I should write about the Steubenville story today. It’s so disgusting that I haven’t even been able to bring myself to watch the video of students joking about the gang rape that the Anonymous group released. I didn’t want to subject all of you to something that I can barely stand to read about.

What I decided to do is give you a brief summary of what I’ve learned so far and post some links so you can read more if you are interested. I’m not going to name names, but you’ll see them if you go to the links.

Steubenville is a small town of about 17,000 people in southeastern Ohio just a short distance from the West Virginia border. Steubenville is crazy about their high school football team (nicknamed “Big Red”) and the team brings in a great deal of money to the community–through increased legal and illegal (gambling) business. There has apparently been a culture of protecting the football players and allowing them to run wild, and the perpetrators in this case are football players.

What I’ve gathered, based on the most recent stories and rumors, is that the victim (age 16) lived in West Virginia but had recently broken up with her boyfriend who was from Steubenville. The boyfriend was enraged about the breakup, and tweeted about the victim, saying she should be punished. He apparently encouraged at least one member of the football team to call the girl, befriend her, and urge her to attend a massive end of the summer party that took place in multiple locations. One of the locations was the home of the local prosecuting attorney whose son is on the football team.

The Anonymous hackers claim the girl was drugged immediately after she was picked up in a car by three football players. That can’t be confirmed because the girl didn’t get to the hospital in time for a date rape drug to be detected. It makes sense though, because the girl was unconscious throughout the night and doesn’t remember anything after she got in the car with the two perpetrators who have been arrested so far.

These two boys (both 16) carried the girl around like an object from house to house (there are photos), and she was repeatedly sexually assaulted by multiple attackers. This apparently happened during parties as the girl lay on the floor or in a chair, unresponsive. One onlooker even “joked” that she was dead. The NYT reports that at one point she vomited in the street and “she remained there alone for several minutes with her top off.” At one point a former football player who was a student at Ohio State University this year called for her to be urinated on. It’s not clear if that happened, but several people reported it.

The girl reportedly slept on a couch in one of the houses and was taken home early in the morning and left on her parents’ doorstep. She had no knowledge of what had happened to her until she started seeing the comments and photos on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. The fact that she has no memory of the night at all certainly suggests that she could have been given a date rape drug. You’ll find a lot more information on Atlantic Wire if you go to that link.

When the girl’s mother realized what had happened, she took her daughter to the hospital and to the police, but it was too late to recover any evidence. The local prosecutor reportedly discouraged the victim and her family from pressing charges, warning that the community would turn against them and the media would never leave them alone.

Eventually two boys were arrested and charged as adults with rape and kidnapping, but many character witnesses testified for them, including the football coach (who is close friends with the Sheriff and who didn’t bench any of the other team members involved) and the kidnapping charge was dropped and the boys are now charged as juveniles. Their trial is scheduled for February. No one else as been charged, but after the story went national this week authorities said there could be more arrests. The case is now being investigated by special prosecutors and the local prosecutor and judge have recused themselves (BTW, the state attorney general is former Republican Senator Mike DeWine–remember him? In addition, the Atlantic reported yesterday that the football coach may be forced to resign. Today Anonymous plans to hold a public protest in Steubenville.

A few more links:

Prinniefied.com, the home of a crime blogger who kept the Steubenville story alive for months when there was little media coverage.

An early (September 2) story from the Cleveland Plain Dealer: Rape charges against high school players divide football town of Steubenville, Ohio

WTOV News 9 in Jefferson County Ohio: New developments revealed in Steubenville teen rape investigation

DailyKos: The Steubenville Rape – A Timeline

American Prospect: Purity Culture Is Rape Culture

The Atlantic: As a Girl in India, I Learned to Be Afraid of Men

The Atlantic: India’s Gender-Equity Problem

In Other News

Some interesting reads on other topics

A fascinating article at The Atlantic about the phenomenon of waking up under anesthesia: Awakening

Linda Campbell was not quite 4 years old when her appendix burst, spilling its bacteria-rich contents throughout her abdomen. She was in severe pain, had a high fever, and wouldn’t stop crying. Her parents, in a state of panic, brought her to the emergency room in Atlanta, where they lived. Knowing that Campbell’s organs were beginning to fail and her heart was on the brink of shutting down, doctors rushed her into surgery.

Today, removing an appendix leaves only a few droplet-size scars. But back then, in the 1960s, the procedure was much more involved. As Campbell recalls, an anesthesiologist told her to count backward from 10 while he flooded her lungs with anesthetic ether gas, allowing a surgeon to slice into her torso, cut out her earthworm-size appendix, and drain her abdomen of infectious slop, leaving behind a lengthy, longitudinal scar.

The operation was successful, but not long after Campbell returned home, her mother sensed that something was wrong. The calm, precocious girl who went into the surgery was not the same one who emerged. Campbell began flinging food from her high chair. She suffered random episodes of uncontrollable vomiting. She threw violent temper tantrums during the day and had disturbing dreams at night. “They were about people being cut open, lots of blood, lots of violence,” Campbell remembers. She refused to be alone, but avoided anyone outside her immediate circle. Her parents took her to physicians and therapists. None could determine the cause of her distress. When she was in eighth grade, her parents pulled her from school for rehabilitation.

Over time, Campbell’s most severe symptoms subsided, and she learned how to cope with those that remained. She managed to move on, become an accountant, and start a family of her own, but she wasn’t cured. Her nightmares continued, and nearly anything could trigger a panic attack: car horns, sudden bright lights, wearing tight-fitting pants or snug collars, even lying flat in a bed. She explored the possibility of post-traumatic stress disorder with her therapists, but could not identify a triggering event. One clue that did eventually surface, though, hinted at a possibly traumatic experience. During a session with a hypnotherapist, Campbell remembered an image, accompanied by an acute feeling of fear, of a man looming over her.

An article at The Atlantic on How Obama Decides Your Fate if He Thinks You’re a Terrorist

Over the past two years, the Obama administration has begun to formalize a so-called “disposition matrix” for suspected terrorists abroad: a continuously evolving database that spells out the intelligence on targets and various strategies, including contingencies, for handling them. Although the government has not spelled out the steps involved in deciding how to treat various terrorists, a look at U.S. actions in the past makes evident a rough decision tree.

Understanding these procedures is particularly important for one of the most vexing, and potentially most dangerous, categories of terrorists: U.S. citizens. Over the years, U.S. authorities have responded with astonishing variety to American nationals suspected of terrorism, from ignoring their activities to conducting lethal drone strikes. All U.S. terrorists are not created equal. And the U.S. response depends heavily on the role of allies, the degree of threat the suspect poses, and the imminence of that threat — along with other factors.

See the flow chart and read detailed explanations {shudder} at the link.

NYT: F.D.A. Offers Broad New Rules to Fight Food Contamination

The proposed rules represent a sea change in the way the agency polices food, a process that currently involves taking action after contamination has been identified. It is a long-awaited step toward codifying the food safety law that Congress passed two years ago.

Changes include requirements for better record keeping, contingency plans for handling outbreaks and measures that would prevent the spread of contaminants in the first place. While food producers would have latitude in determining how to execute the rules, farmers would have to ensure that water used in irrigation met certain standards and food processors would need to find ways to keep fresh food that may contain bacteria from coming into contact with food that has been cooked.

New safety measures might include requiring that farm workers wash their hands, installing portable toilets in fields and ensuring that foods are cooked at temperatures high enough to kill bacteria.

Whether consumers will ultimately bear some of the expense of the new rules was unclear, but the agency estimated that the proposals would cost food producers tens of thousands of dollars a year.

Mother Jones: Powerful Tea Party Group’s Internal Docs Leak—Read Them Here

FreedomWorks, the national conservative group that helped launch the tea party movement, sells itself as a genuine grassroots operation, and for years it has battled accusations of “astroturfing”—posing as a populist organization while doing the bidding of big-money donors. Yet internal documents obtained by Mother Jones show that FreedomWorks has indeed become dependent on wealthy individual donors to finance its growing operation.

Last month, the Washington Post reported that Richard Stephenson, a reclusive millionaire banker and FreedomWorks board member, and members of his family funneled $12 million in October through two newly created Tennessee corporations to FreedomWorks’ super-PAC, which used these funds to support tea party candidates in November’s elections. The revelation that a corporate bigwig like Stephenson, who founded the Cancer Treatment Centers of America and chairs its board, was responsible for more than half of the FreedomWorks super-PAC’s haul in 2012 undercuts the group’s grassroots image and hands ammunition to critics who say FreedomWorks does the bidding of rich conservative donors.

Big donations like Stephenson’s are business as usual for FreedomWorks. According to a 52-page report prepared by FreedomWorks’ top brass for a board of directors meeting held in mid-December at the Virginia office of Sands Capital Management, an investment firm run by FreedomWorks board member Frank Sands, the entire FreedomWorks organization—its 501(c)(3) and (c)(4) nonprofit arms and its super-PAC—raised nearly $41 million through mid-December. Of that total, $33 million—or 81 percent of its 2012 fundraising—came in the form of “major gifts,” the type of big donations coveted by nonprofits and super-PACs. (FreedomWorks’ nonprofit components do not have to disclose their funders.)

Well-heeled individual contributors ponied up $31 million—or 94 percent—of those major gifts, according to the FreedomWorks board book. Eight donors gave a half-million dollars or more; 22 donated between $100,000 and $499,999; 17 cut checks between $50,000 and $99,999; and 95 gave between $10,000 and $49,999. Foundations contributed $1.6 million in major gifts, and corporations donated $330,000.

Now what are you reading and blogging about today? I look forward to clicking on your links.

Civil Trial in Orlando Has Important Implications for Athletes and Families

As everyone who hasn’t been living under a rock knows by now, there is a high profile trial going on in Orlando, Florida–complete with circus-like atmosphere and spectators fighting for tickets to see the trial live. I’m referring, of course, to the trial of Casey Anthony, accused of first degree murder in the death of her daughter Caylee.

The Anthony trial is getting wall-to-wall coverage on TV stations in Florida, as well as on a couple of cable outlets, but there is another case beginning jury selection today in the same Orange County Courthouse that may have wider implications for families around the country and for high school and college athletic programs.

A sickle cell with normal blood cells

In March, 2008, Ereck Plancher, a 19-year-old freshman at the University of Central Florida (UCF), collapsed and died after a preseason football practice. An autopsy showed that Plancher died from complications associated with sickle cell trait.

In March 2009, Plancher’s parents filed suit for wrongful death against UCF’s board of trustees and Athletics Association claiming that their son’s coaches and trainers knew that Plancher had the sickle cell trait but didn’t inform him or his family. In addition, they charge that UCF athletic staff failed respond when Plancher began to exhibit symptoms during the his last practice and therefore they contributed to his death.

Basically, individuals with this trait are carriers of one sickle cell gene–they are heterozygous. In order for sickle cell disease to fully manifest, an individual must have two copies of the abnormal gene. However, it is possible for sickle cell symptoms to appear under highly stressful conditions such as high altitudes, extreme physical exertion, or dehydration. In such instances, there can be dangerous complications. The sickle cell gene is far more common in people with African heritage than people from other ethnic backgrounds. The NCAA and some colleges and universities have resisted testing players for the trait for fear of being accused of racial discrimination.

The most egregious allegation is that the coach and trainers withheld water from players during the workout, and this was backed up in pre-trial testimony by three former UCF players, Nate Tice, Cody Minnich, and Anthony Davis. Tice and Minnich testified in a hearing on Friday.

When Tice was asked during his deposition whether water was available during Plancher’s last workout, he responded, “No.”

Tice, a reserve quarterback who transferred to Wisconsin, said players asked for water from athletic trainers “at your own risk” because O’Leary would curse at athletes who interrupted workouts.

Tice was then asked whether there were athletic trainers present during Plancher’s last workout. Tice said, “They were in a corner. They were not, like, with us.”

Minnich, a reserve offensive lineman who was dismissed from the team after being arrested for driving under the influence in December 2008, said during his deposition there was no water available in the practice facility while the players were running through an obstacle course and sprints.

“They were ordered to take the water outside of the building, and they weren’t there during that portion of the workout,” Minnich said of the athletic trainers.

When he was asked who ordered the athletic trainers to leave, Minnich said O’Leary shouted the instructions.

The question of adequate hydration is central to the case. The judge decided on Friday that Plancher’s parents can sue for punitive damages, but they will only be awarded if the jury decides water was unavailable during the practice.

Ereck Plancher

Tice and Minnich bolstered the previous testimony of Anthony Davis.

UCF officials, including O’Leary and athletic director Keith Tribble, said in the immediate aftermath of Plancher’s death that the workout in which he collapsed was not a taxing one. However, former wide receiver Anthony Davis said in his sworn statement that trainers didn’t help Plancher as he struggled to finish an obstacle course. He also told attorneys that he witnessed O’Leary curse Plancher at times when he couldn’t keep up with other teammates.

Davis also told attorneys that he witnessed O’Leary curse Plancher at times when he couldn’t keep up with other teammates.

Ereck Plancher is not the first athlete to die from complications of sickle cell trait.

CNN reports that nine collegiate football players’ deaths have been related to sickle-cell trait since 2000, making exertional sickling the leading cause of death in NCAA football players this decade.” But “the medical field is divided over whether there is enough evidence to warrant the mass screenings,” because the way the trait is related to the deaths is “unclear,” CNN reports.

According to the Washington Post, there have been four such deaths in Florida alone.

Four in-state college football players have died in the past decade while participating in offseason workouts: Plancher; South Florida’s Keeley Dorsey; Florida’s Eraste Autin; and Florida State’s Devaughn Darling.

Devaughn Darling’s twin brother Devard, who went on to play in the NFL, spoke about his brother’s death and about having the sickle cell trait in this 2007 USA Today story.

“I believe it had some effect on him, definitely,” said Devard Darling. “My teammates, who were there at the time, said he was saying he couldn’t see, he was blacking out. … Clearly, there were signs for him to stop. There was definitely room for coaches and athletic trainers to step in and say that’s enough.”

Devard said he’s had no problems with the condition and has always done “all team activities.”

But, he added, “I know my body. It’s important for young athletes as they grow to know their limitations. The No. 1 thing is staying hydrated. … But there is a point at which you know something is not right. You need a little rest.”

He added, “I’m sure it’s not just me (participating in pro sports with sickle cell trait). They say one out of every 10-12 people of African descent carries the sickle cell trait. You know the high amount of African-Americans in pro sports.”

The Darling family received a $200,000 settlement from Florida State (the amount was $2 million, but Florida limits the amount that can be paid in a wrongful death suit!).

Devard has set up a foundation in his native Bahamas to support the brothers’ “dream of bringing football home to the Bahamas and creating opportunities for young kids.” The As One Foundation gets its name from the twins’ hearts beating “as one” in the womb.

A similar wrongful death lawsuit was recently filed in Mississippi.

The family of a deceased Ole Miss football player filed a wrongful death lawsuit Tuesday against the NCAA, the University of Mississippi, coach Houston Nutt as well as several staffers and medical personnel.

Bennie “Buster” Abram died in February 2010 following an early offseason workout due to complications from sickle cell trait. His parents alleged in a 32-page document filed in Mississippi circuit court that the defendants were so “reckless” that their actions rise to “the level of crimes such as” negligent criminal homicide and involuntary manslaughter.


Bennie Abram III, a walk-on, collapsed shortly after an early-morning workout on Feb. 19, 2010. Six hours later he was pronounced dead. Three months later, an autopsy determined sickle cell trait had contributed to his death. At the time, Abram was the 21st NCAA football player to die from a non-traumatic event since 2000. Eleven of those deaths had come in Division I-A. Sickle cell trait remains the leading killer of Division I football players since that year.

The NCAA did not mandate testing for the condition until last year. That move resulted from a legal settlement between the family of deceased Rice player Dale Lloyd II and the NCAA in 2009. Eugene Egdorf, the lead attorney in Abram’s lawsuit, represented the Lloyd family. Dale Lloyd died in 2006 as a result of sickle cell trait following a workout.

“[Bennie’s] death is a tragedy that should have been prevented,” Egdorf said in a release announcing Tuesday’s suit. “Every sickle cell expert in the world will tell you that the only way this trait can cause a student-athlete’s death is when they are put through overly strenuous workouts like the one Bennie went through before he died.”

Again, in this case, university officials knew the young man had the sickle cell trait and did not inform him or his family or take special precautions.

The NCAA now mandates testing for sickle cell trait for all Division I athletes, but there is an opt-out for students who sign a waiver.

Kourtni Livingston

In my opinion, screening for the trait should be instituted at every level of student athletics. Certainly there should also be protections to keep people who test positive from being discriminated against. High school athletes can also be stressed enough for the symptoms to manifest, as demonstrated in the case of 14-year-old Lubbock, Texas basketball player Kourtni Livingston, who died while running laps.

As one of the attorneys in the Ereck Plancher case emphasized:

“This is not a case about punitive damages or about insurance, it’s about saving lives,” Plancher attorney Steven Yerrid said recently. “It’s not about compensating the Plancher family. It’s about stopping football programs from disregarding safety of student athletes that participate in them. And that’s important and that’s the message. Punitive damages are not designed to compensate plaintiffs. … They’re designed to punish wrongdoers and to send a message that type of conduct won’t be tolerated.